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Ex-Buddhism office execs face 200-year jail terms if convicted for embezzlement

May 18. 2018
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By THE NATION

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FORMER top executives of the National Buddhism Office (NBO) risk lengthy jail terms of up to 200 years if they are found guilty of embezzling state funds for temples, National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) president Pol General Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit said yesterday.

Watcharapol said these former officials were suspects in several embezzlement cases. 

“The maximum penalty for each case is 50 years. But because of the many cases, the imprisonment term can be combined,” he said. “Then, they may face up to 200 years in jail if convicted.” 

Watcharapol reckoned that the convicts might get some penalty reduction. 

The NACC has now set up a subcommittee to investigate the use of state funds at 13 temples in response to allegations of embezzlement. 

Among the accused are former NBO chief Phanom Sornsilp and former deputy director of the NBO, Pranom Kongpikul.

Watcharapol said the NACC probes would proceed fast as the NACC already had relevant information in hand and evidence could be shared in some cases.

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He said those who had fled the country would have to be fugitives all their life because there would be no statute of limitation in such cases under the NACC laws. 

It has been reported that another former director of the NBO, Nopparat Benjawatananan, had already fled Thailand. 

Many more temples are now being investigated. In the latest temple-fund scandal, police found evidence suggesting a senior monk might have transferred Bt25 million to a company that appeared to exist only on paper and is controlled by a woman with links to a military official.

The woman is a relative of Second Lieutenant Thititat Niponpittaya, whose house in Bangkok is shown as the company’s address.

Thititat and his relative were apparently close to the top monk at the Sa Ket Temple. 

His home was searched on Wednesday and his maid admitted to providing her documents to Thititat’s family at their bidding. The search also uncovered many guns and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, prompting police to summon Thititat for questioning. 

Deputy National Police Commissioner Pol General Srivara Ransibrahmanakul said Thititat had submitted a written request asking that he have until May 21 to answer to the summons. 

“As for the maid, she has been treated as a witness. The interrogation on her past is already complete,” Srivara said. 

Last month, the NBO lodged a complaint against five senior monks, accusing them of embezzling state funds meant for Dhamma schools. Implicated are Phra Phromdilok, the abbot of Sam Phraya Temple; Phra Phrommedhi, an assistant abbot of Samphanthawongsaram Temple; Phra Phromsitti, the abbot of Sa Ket Temple; and Sa Ket Temple’s assistant abbots Phra Medhisuttikorn and Phra Wijitdhammaporn.

As the probe has expanded, police found links to DD Thaveekhoon Limited Partnership. 

The registered address of this firm turned out to be just a house, which belongs to Thititat, police found on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Deputy Supreme Commander ACM Sutti Inseeyong cancelled the order for Thititat to help with work at the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters command and general staff unit. Following the cancellation, Thititat has had to return to the headquarters’ security centre. 

Thititat, who worked as secretary to Pisit Leelavachiropas during the latter’s term as the auditor-general, joined the Armed Forces in 2016. 

An informed source said Thititat could get the job because of the influence of a senior figure.

“We have never seen him come to work at the security centre during his first six months in the Armed Forces or before he was transferred to the command and general staff unit,” the source said. “Following his transfer, we heard that he was often seen at the Sa Ket Temple.”

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